Intensive English Programs Accreditation: Size Matters

learn englishIn 2010 the US government implemented legislation in December 2013 requiring Intensive English Programs accreditation to be completed by a recognized body. As a result, only accredited IEP programs can enroll international students and issue the documents they need to apply for and obtain an F-1 student visas.  Accreditation proponents argue the law has been beneficial by making IEPs comply with international standards.  ESL degrees have also become more valuable, as accreditors now check that teaching and leadership positions are taken by qualified instructors. Having an IEP accredited is not an easy task, however, and going through the process does not guarantee success.

The two major accreditor agencies concerning intensive English programs in the US are the CEA (Commission on English Language Program Accreditation), specialized on IEPs, and the ACCET (Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training), which deals with a wide range of institutions, including career and vocational schools.  Despite their different timelines and benchmarking points, being accredited with these organizations takes a minimum of three years and costs around ten thousand dollars plus annual sustaining fees. Both review a wide range of operational areas and aspects, covering management, instructional programs, services and assessment.

For smaller, privately-owned schools the accreditation process is very challenging, and current regulations require new schools to be fully operational for a certain time before their accreditation process begins, making it next to impossible to start a school.

For bigger operators, the best way to enter the US language market is probably to buy an already accredited school, thus reducing the costs and risk of starting operations. Although this is out of the budget of many smaller operators, it is believed that this was a contributing factor in the recent acquisitions of several US language centers by UK- and Australia-based education groups.

In the end, though, for students the consequence is clear: the law has been successful in raising the overall quality of IEPs across the nation, meaning that students can have confidence when selecting a school.

Improvements in the Panamanian Educational System

panamaWith 4% of all global trade passing through its canal, The Republic of Panama boasts the two busiest ports in the world as well as one of the fastest-growing economies in the Americas. Despite this, only recently have long-standing issues with both quality and access begun to effect improvements in the Panamanian educational system.

Traditional Panamanian education comprises three stages (primary, secondary and tertiary) and schooling is free through the secondary level. Then the system splits into an academic track and a vocational track, with more students choosing the latter. Public education is non-profit, serving 87% enrolled students. Rising enrollment reflects increased demands for skilled labor, but quality problems linger and have resulted in a mismatch between educational offerings and market needs. Rural and urban areas show wide divisions in access and delivery of education services, adding to inequality. Indigenous and Afro-Caribbean populations also suffer discrimination, high poverty and low political representation, further reinforcing barriers to their educational achievement. In recognition of these problems, in recent years the following efforts have been undertaken:

  • In 2010, in a new evaluation process was set up for universities by the fledgling National Council for University Evaluation and Accreditation of Panama (CONEAUPA). The changes emphasized skills training, curriculum unification and quarterly terms during the academic year. They also established a nation-wide team to update curricula.
  • The government has increased student financial support, quadrupling grants from 2009 to 2013; thus pushing demand for university places in a wider range of study areas. However, areas such as health sciences and export and logistics still face under-enrollment. Panama plans to establish a national, PISA-aligned assessment system to measure learning outcomes.
  • The 2014 program “Panamá Bilingüe” aims to implement a fully-bilingual education system in twelve years, improving English skills among both teacher and student populations, and sending on average 2,000 teachers yearly to immersion programs in the US, the UK, Canada and Barbados.


Through these efforts and several bilateral agreements with countries like France, Jamaica, Morocco, Trinidad and Tobago and Singapore, Panama envisions becoming an international education hub in the Americas and has set special migration regimes for educational establishmentsin order to attract foreign students, academics and researchers.

Peru Seeks National Bilingualism

peruPeru seeks national bilingualism in English and Spanish by 2021 and President Ollanta Humala has announced some big promises to make that happen. His plan expands to public schools a bilingual education initiative originally designed for the military and allocates resources to train more than 280,000 teachers with dual-language skills. His government is focused on 2,010 communities with insufficient schooling, and intends to turn Arequipa, Peru’s second most populous city, inits flagship bilingual municipality.

To support these initiatives, Humala’s government has signed agreements with educational bodies in the UK in an effort to leverage their expertise to set up and expand Peru’s language programs. As part of the program, Peruvian teachers will be trained in the UK, and UK institutions will run ELT training schools in Peru. Moreover, the Higher Education Unit will create postgraduate scholarships to study in the UK for limited-mean students, funded by Peru’s national scholarship and student loan program. These loans will be supplemented by a wide range of grants which will promote their overseas studies and cement Peru’s status as an emerging language student sending market.

But changes like this won’t come easy or cheaply. The new University Act targets low-quality private universities ‑ referred to as ‘degree factories’ by critics ‑ to raise their certifications’ quality, but has found strong opposition and criticism. It also risks reversal if Humala’s fierce political rival and trail frontrunner, Keiko Fujimori (daughter of incarcerated former-president Alberto), wins June’s presidential runoffs and follows-through on her promise to challenge it in court.

No matter who wins, however, Peruvians are pressing for a more inclusive education system which enables greater economic equity. As a result, it would appear that things are only getting starting – both politically and educationally – in the South American nation.

Irish International Education Reforms

irelandThe government of Ireland moved one step forward in January with their efforts to fully implement their International Education Mark (IEP) by putting in place their long-awaited English Language Reforms this year and releasing their International List of Educational Providers back in January 20th.

The IEP, which guarantees the educational quality and ethical conduct of international student providers in the country, is part of a series of new Irish international education reforms. The Department of Justice says these reforms are designed to align their international education and immigration policies so that international students are met with “high educational standards” that provide them “effective learning environments, adequate [instructional] supports and appropriate learning contents and outcomes.”  The reforms were announced almost a year ago in May by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald, who said they will “ensure that ‘visa factories’ and the people who run them have no place in Irish education.”

These measures were originally intended to take effect last October, but were delayed in order to better review the hundreds of higher education and language programs that receive international students in the country.  In spite of these delays, seventeen language schools have been closed in Ireland since 2014 thanks in part to accusations of allowing economic immigrants to pass as bona fide students. The reforms will surely bring in more school closures, according to David O’Grady, CEO of a firm that represents fifty language schools accounting for 90% of the market, as schools not listed in the ILEP will not be able to accept students who require visa.

The measures also state that language schools should provide tuition protection mechanisms that include compulsory learner protection arrangements and escrow accounts for tuition fees. They also require Irish institutions to clearly declare school ownership, shadow directors, physical infrastructure, and teaching capacity.

Ireland’s study/work policies give the industry a competitive advantage, allowing most language students to work part or full time while at school, and these new efforts suggest that that advantage is here to stay.

English Proficiency in Latin America Remains Low

latin americaThe recently released English Proficiency Index (EPI) from English First (EF) reveals that English Proficiency in Latin America remains low. This is particularly important as most countries in the region see English as a catalyst for economic development, and policymakers have made education reforms a top priority.

EF’s index ranks 70 world countries and territories ‑ fourteen of them in Latin American ‑ according to their English language proficiency. The regional leader, Argentina, ranks 15th place in the world and is the only country in the region considered to have a high proficiency level. Second place, the Dominican Republic, is 24th in the world and earns only “moderate” proficiency. The other 12 countries in the region fall into the low and very low proficiency categories. The region’s top-five is rounded out by Peru (35th), Chile (36th) and Ecuador (38th). Here is an overview of some of the region’s current initiatives:

  • Despite its relatively low results, Chile is a top performer in the region on most international education assessments. Its “English Opens Doors” program was among the earliest language training initiatives in Latin America, recruiting and training over 2,000 volunteer-teachers, hosting full-immersion camps and supporting professional development for local educators. Its work is clearly incomplete, however, and President Bachelet, re-elected in 2014, tasked the program to reach a thousand schools and raise the number of speakers.
  • Although Panama missed the top five, the country showed an impressive index improvement, jumping from 56th place in 2013 to its present 48th. Its current efforts includes local and overseas teacher training, additional lessons in English for elementary students and after-school classes for secondary schoolers. It hopes to produce 10,000 bilingual teachers and 260,000 bilingual students over the next four years.
  • Mexican adults remain low-proficiency users, despite the country’s economic and social ties to neighboring US. The government launched an initiative in 2014 aiming to send 100,000 students to the US for short-term intensive courses by 2018.
  • Brazil has launched several programs to improve English skills in recent years and the results have been encouraging. Its “Languages without Borders” program, for example, prepares students for graduate studies abroad and includes English and seven additional foreign languages. Nevertheless, it has yet to expand the number of competent speakers in the workforce.

In sum, then, these efforts illustrate that the governments of the region recognize English as the primary international language and there the need to strengthen English education systems in order to provide their citizens with opportunities in the global economy.

Cambridge English Announces Exam Discontinued

cambridge-english-language-assessmentOffering over 20 different exams for learners and teachers in more than 130 countries around the world, Cambridge English Language Assessment is one of the biggest names in English proficiency assessments. In fact, last year more than four million people sat for one of their exams. Thus, it will come as a surprise to many,  Cambridge English announced a number of exams will be discontinued come December 2016.

The discontinued exams are as follows:


The Cambridge English: Legal, made famous for the International Legal English Certificate (ILEC) it confers, is a high-level, student-centered qualification designed to demonstrate that candidates have the language skills necessary for a successful international law career.

Similarly, the Cambridge English: Financial is another high-level exam which confers the International Certificate in Financial English (ICFE) and, as the name suggests, enables candidates to demonstrate that they have the language necessary for English-language accountancy and finance.

As both of these exams were targeted at higher-ability students in specialized fields, Cambridge English recommends the Cambridge English: Advanced and Cambridge English: Business Higher as alternatives within their existing portfolio that will continue to demonstrate an advanced level of English in a professional context.


Teachers, meanwhile, will be affected by the discontinuation of the Young Learner (YL) Extension to CELTA, an add-on to their popular CELTA certification course designed to impart the unique skills necessary to teach English to children, adolescents, and teenagers with confidence. Although no substitute exists, Cambridge will be continuing with its CELTA courses without.

If you are interested in (or already registered for) any of these exams, you don’t need to worry. Cambridge English made the announcement early enough to give everyone a chance to prepare for the final, December 2016 test dates. There is sure to be a surge in demand by then, however, so plan accordingly to make sure you can find a spot at a test center near you!

The Highlights and Challenges of English-Medium International Schools

chalk boardEnglish is the international language of the globalized business world, and though languages change over time, English is anticipated to remain the world’s number one language during our lifetimes.

Because of this, four million students were enrolled at English-medium international schools in May, a record level according to the International School Consultancy.

In an English-medium education system, English is the primary language for instruction, especially in places where English is not the native tongue of the students. Continue reading “The Highlights and Challenges of English-Medium International Schools”

New York Governor Announces ESL Program for NY Spanish-Speakers

cell phone learningOnly 51 percent of New Yorkers speak only English at home. Spanish speakers make up most of the non-English population, about 25 percent of the city. Since approximately 1.87 million residents are speaking Spanish in New York, the governor has noticed that not everyone has the resources and time to commit to learning English. Learning English could significantly improve the lives of many New York immigrants, and the city wants to give back to a community that has given so much to them economically.

Governor Andrew Cuomo made New York the first state to offer English lessons via smartphones as part of a pilot program run by the social venture Cell-ED, according to an April 28 Latin Times article. Continue reading “New York Governor Announces ESL Program for NY Spanish-Speakers”

ESL Education Lacking in New South Wales

kids in classroomSince listening and reading are main components in learning, going to school when one does not know English can be a tremendous barrier in the learning journey. Students in many of the public schools in New South Wales (NSW), Australia are trying to overcome this barrier, with little success.

Only 20 ESL teachers have been employed since 1993, and between 1992 and 2014, the number of students who needed English language teaching support each year grew from 104,173 to 138,487, according to a March 2015 Sydney Morning Herald article. This 33 percent increase in students needing ESL focus creates a gap that the public schools do not think will be funded. Continue reading “ESL Education Lacking in New South Wales”

How to Learn English While Watching TV and Movies

158340511Students spend 45 percent of their day listening and are expected to acquire 85 percent of their knowledge by listening, according to the International Listening Association. Because listening is so important, many students learning English have realized that watching television and movies have helped improve their language skills immensely. Watching these programs can also expose you more to the culture. Knowing the culture can lead to a better understanding of the English language, including idioms, humor, accents and phrases that may be unfamiliar to you.

What to Watch to Improve Your English

Choosing what to watch is different for everyone. It may be best to choose movies and television shows that include dialogue with colloquial English so you can train your ear to understand conversational English. It would also be helpful to choose a program that reflects aspects of the culture. The following examples of television shows and movies depict the American culture.

Most English learners and ESL teachers recommend The Wonder Years as a television program to watch. This program is an American classic, and follows a character through his teenage years. Along with helping you learn the language, The Wonder Years can also give you a glimpse into what life was like growing up in America during the 1960s and 70s, what was considered to be America’s “golden era.” Even with its cultural identity, the show will still relate to most teenagers. Seinfeld is another recommended television program, as it has basic English that is easy to understand, and if you listen carefully, a very funny script that has kept many ESL students laughing. Some teachers also recommend watching reality TV because you will be able to listen to real conversations with people. Continue reading “How to Learn English While Watching TV and Movies”